At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.
A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.
Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.
The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."
One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”
By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."
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Roger Hodgson, on life after SupertrampOttawa Citizen, December 1st
He found too that a 12-string guitar and a Wurlitzer electric piano were instruments that inspired songs. The first time he touched the Wurlitzer, out popped Dreamer, he says. And then just at the height of the band's success, Hodgson checked out. “It...Read more
Jimmy Page Before Led Zeppelin: 20 Great Sixties Session SongsRollingStone.com, November 29th
with Dave Davies offering up a solo in the middle that brings to mind the best of Scotty Moore and Luther Perkins. Page, meanwhile, was enlisted to provide a 12-string guitar part that helps fill out the track and adds a distinctive rawness to the...Read more
Strings AttachedNorthwest Georgia News, November 29th
Kelley Lane is a luthier. He makes and repairs string instruments out of his west Rome workshop and learned the art from a master. But Lane's passion is in making replicas of some of the most expensive and highly sought-after guitars in the world...Read more
National Sardines Day-KALW Almanac-11/24/2015KALW, November 24th
“Photograph” was co-written by George Harrison, who also contributed backing vocals and a 12-string guitar solo to the track. Harrison had been the first solo Beatle to top the pop charts back in December 1970 with “My Sweet Lord,” followed shortly...Read more
How Elvis Costello Created 'Red Shoes'Wall Street Journal, November 17th
Guitarist John McFee opened the record with a figure that almost sounded like a 12-string guitar, which was good, since we didn't own one between us. I was playing rhythm guitar, but in truth I didn't know what I was playing, really. Soon after “My Aim...Read more
How to Sound Like a Bluegrass Mandolin Player — VideoGuitar World Magazine, October 7th
The mandolin, the violin's sister instrument and fretted equivalent, uses this same tuning, except it has four pairs of closely spaced strings, known as courses, with each course tuned in unison, just like a 12-string guitar's B and high E strings. I...Read more
'Legends of Hawaiian 12-String Guitar' at the ArataniThe Rafu Shimpo, September 30th
The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center presents “Legends of Hawaiian 12-String Guitar,” a special evening featuring founding member of the legendary M?kaha Sons, Jerome Koko, and Grammy winners George Kahumoku Jr. and Daniel ...Read more
12-String Setup SecretsPremier Guitar, February 9th
A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more